2023 will be the third season of DJ LeMahieu’s six-year, $90 million contract with the Yankees. It will also be his fifth overall in New York, so barring any trade or release in the future, we’re likely halfway through his time as a Yankee. He came on as a somewhat under-the-radar signing, but quickly became an indispensable part of this team.
LeMahieu’s stellar performance earned him another deal — one that was understandably much longer and more lucrative. It came under a very different set of circumstances for him and the team, and the end result will likely reflect that. His time here has been excellent for the most part, but there is certainly cause for some concern going forward.
The arrival of “LeMachine” in New York on a two year $24 million deal went far better than anyone could have expected. He had been a good-enough player in Colorado, coming off two fine to average seasons in 2017-18, not to mention a batting title in 2016 (.348). What the Yankees got, rather than a solid utility player, was an MVP candidate for those two seasons.
The righty had back-to-back top four finishes in MVP voting, another batting title in the abbreviated 2020 campaign (.364), and a combined 146 wRC+ from 2019-20. LeMahieu had posted just one season in his career up to that point with above-average production. This was weighed down by playing in Coors, but the point still stands: He blew expectations out of the water.
As much of a high-value deal that LeMahieu’s first contract turned out to be, his second likely won’t quite pay the same returns. He has still been good under the current contract, but the end result will likely look like a bit of an overpay. You certainly can’t blame the Yankees though; they had a super versatile, MVP-caliber player for two years. It would have been very difficult to let him walk after that. All of that being said, he has still been an above-average contributor over the last two seasons, but there are some real reasons to worry looking ahead.
It’s not like LeMahieu’s deal is an Albert Pujols-esque situation, but it’s not chump change either. He is owed $15 million for each of the next four seasons, which is reasonable, but the concern is mostly that he’ll be celebrating his 38th birthday under this deal with the Yanks.
LeMahieu is already 34, and some of his peripherals, particularly in the power department, have been on the decline since his arrival. He had never been a true power hitter before coming to New York, in style or results, but he has slugged the lowest he has since 2014 over the past two years.
Having said this, LeMahieu has not been bad, nor do I expect him to be. There’s no reason to be slamming the panic button. 2022 featured the best walk rate of his career, and he paired it with his lowest (non-2020) strikeout rate since 2016. It doesn’t seem likely that his skills will just disappear.
What seems more plausible however, is more issues arising with LeMahieu’s health. He has been the victim of some nagging injuries of late, most recently with his toe. It will not require surgery, but toe and foot issues are notoriously hard to shake, and we saw very clearly last year how much it affected him for long stretches.
Now, as we likely stand halfway through DJ LeMahieu’s tenure with the Yankees, on two very different contracts, things feel a bit uncertain. Of course, his health is the main concern, as it seems like a far more pressing matter than his skills suddenly disappearing. The jury is definitely still out, and there’s plenty of time for it all to straighten itself out. I tend to be an optimist on things like this, but the remaining years of the DJ LeMahieu contract certainly feel murky.